March 8, 2018
This is the first of a 2-part series on career development programs for the next generation. See Part 2.
Some say that life begins at the end of your comfort zone. For Casey DeWoody, born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia, life took a dramatic turn when she stepped out of hers and entered college at UCLA. “I studied hard in high school, but I wasn’t really confident in my leadership, communication, and business skills,” she says. “School just hadn’t prepared me for what was to come.” Unfortunately, DeWoody is not alone.
According to Pew Research, Millennials are set to be the most-educated generation in U.S. history. Yet despite their heavy investment in education, Millennials currently have the highest levels of unemployment and make significantly less than their parents did at the same stage in life. Studies show that although 90% of college graduates feel confident they are adequately prepared for the workplace, employers are critical of their analytical thinking, communication, and public speaking skills, saying they just aren’t ready to succeed in the workplace.
Study after study reveals a shocking disparity between student competencies and the skills that employers are demanding. For example, 60% of companies say new college graduates are not ready for the workforce, and more than 40% of employers report having difficulty finding qualified candidates for open positions.
The career and workplace readiness gap is even more pronounced when the data is segmented by economically disadvantaged versus affluent students. Perhaps not surprisingly, 57% of private sector, full-time workers have reported that they want to learn a new skill set to land a better-paying, more fulfilling job, but half said they can’t afford to do so.
“The future of every community depends on its youth,” says Marina Marmut, director of Operation Enterprise (OE), the youth leadership program of American Management Association.
“They are the next generation of business leaders, and when they thrive, the communities they live in are likely to do the same, with stronger economies, greater environmental awareness, social responsibility, superior schools, and solid ethical values. We need to do more to prepare them to enter the workforce and succeed, and we need to make this available to all students, regardless of their ability to pay,” says Marmut.
In 2013, the U.S. Department of Education began the college scorecard—a measure of vital statistics for colleges such as costs, value, and quality of education, including the average earnings of graduates. This increased scrutiny of education and the ROI of traditional educational paths has sparked a revival of career readiness programs in high schools and colleges. Looking to ward off the oncoming talent war, many organizations have also started to partner with educational providers to develop and recruit talent with specific skill sets.
In the midst of this transformation in education, some programs, such as Operation Enterprise, have been running successfully for more than 50 years.
“Back in the late 1960s, I was a high school student in an inner-city school in Indianapolis when I was selected to participate in Operation Enterprise,” says Roger Stark, one of the original OE graduates. “My mother worked in a factory for a buck an hour, and I was juggling school while also working 30 hours a week to help pay for food and clothes for the family. Eli Lilly, a local pharmaceutical company, had decided to sponsor two students from my area to go for a two-week program at the American Management Association. It was a truly transformational experience. I knew I was good at what I did—I graduated in the top 10% of my class. But it wasn’t until I was in this program that I realized I could stand and run with anyone—I didn’t have to take a second seat. If I was willing to put in the effort, it was mine for the taking. It had an enormous effect on my self-confidence.”
With that newfound confidence and sense of purpose, Stark led several corporate positions and eventually founded BrainWare Learning Company (MyBrainWare.com). “I was inspired by one of the speakers who said it was his mission to give back to the community, and that’s what we do. We make software that uses neurological principles to help people learn more effectively and reach their full potential. I want everyone to be able to have the same kind of transformational experience I had.”
Created by American Management Association, a global leader in talent transformation for nearly a century, Operation Enterprise now serves up to 15,000 students through customized educational programs—and its programs continue to expand through corporate sponsorships.
“AMA partners with organizations all over the world, including the majority of Fortune 500 companies, to develop effective leadership development programs,” says Marmut. “We took our robust curriculum and knowledge of what works to create dynamic, hands-on workshops that cover every aspect of being a working professional. We have a business curriculum, of course, but we go beyond that. From management, leadership, and communication to entrepreneurship, networking, and social styles, we bring all of this together to help students gain business skills, build confidence, and sharpen their focus.”